A big part of my job as a pediatric occupational therapist is to help kids with their fine motor skills. This is because the hands and fingers play a huge role in completing everyday “occupations” such as playing, eating, dressing, managing self-care tasks, and participating at school.
Although occupational therapy professionals are specially trained to help kids who struggle with fine motor skills, it doesn’t mean parents can’t also support the development of their kids’ fine motor skills at home!
Here are five simple ways parents can support the development of their kids’ fine motor skills at home:
1. Set aside the electronics – the tablets, smart phones, video game systems, and remote controls.
Just because they use the hands doesn’t mean they develop the hands. While there are some fun and useful fine motor apps out there to help kids practice pinching and coordinating their fingers (such as Dexteria Jr. and Dexteria), I wouldn’t suggest that parents rely on them to promote their child’s fine motor development. There is so much more that goes into fine motor development than just the ability to use the fingers.
If you really want to support your child’s fine motor development, take a few minutes to learn about the five things to keep in mind when working on fine motor skills.
2. Let them play.
I mean, really play. When kids engage in whole-body activities like playing tag, jumping on a trampoline, swinging at the park, or swimming in a pool, they are able to develop the large muscles in the body (legs, trunk, neck, shoulders) that serve as a stable “base” for the smaller muscles (wrists, hands, fingers). And when kids participate in active play involving the upper body such as climbing up rock walls, hanging on monkey bars, and crawling through tunnels, it also strengthens the muscles in their arms, hands, and fingers, which is essential for fine motor development. This type of whole-body play and “heavy work” is also great for supporting healthy development of the proprioceptive sensory system, which contributes to our sense of body awareness and motor coordination.
3. Engage them in games or activities that involve crawling or bearing weight in the hands.
Did you know that when kids bear weight on their hands or crawl on all fours, it can actually help with fine motor skills? Crazy, right? That’s because bearing weight in the hands stimulates and strengthens many of the muscles of the hands, something we refer to as the “palmar arches” of the hand (similar to how we have arches in our feet). There are all sorts of small muscles in our hands that make up three main arches around our hands. These arches work together to help our hands accurately form around objects as we hold and manipulate them, such as when we hold a ball, build with blocks, or brush our teeth or hair. These palmar arches are also responsible for helping kids develop in-hand manipulation skills and dissociation of the two sides of the hand (what’s that and why is it important?). These hand skills are important for everyday childhood activities such as coloring, cutting, writing, manipulating fasteners, and twisting open containers (like a tube of toothpaste or a twist-top glue stick).
Some crawling and weight bearing activity ideas include crawling through tunnels or in a fort made of blankets, playing tag by crawling like an animal, performing animal walks such as bear walks or crab walks during play times or natural transition times in the day (such as going down the hallway to brush teeth or put jammies on), and practicing yoga or gymnastics poses (such as Downward Dog, Plank, or handstands).
4. Embed opportunities for fine motor development into the daily routine.
Whenever I work with parents whose children are receiving occupational therapy services, I always try to emphasize that there are so many therapeutic and developmental opportunities within the walls of their own home. This is especially true when it comes to fine motor strengthening and practice!
Here are some ideas for how to incorporate fine motor practice into your everyday routine:
- In the bath: Offer toys that provide opportunities for squeezing, such as squeezable water toys, turkey baster, medicine dropper, or wash cloth (they can dunk it under water and then practice wringing it out). You can also cut the bottom off of a plastic milk jug to turn it into a big scooper for water play in the bath. The jug’s handle provides a perfect opportunity for wrist and hand strengthening during water play! You can either leave the twist top on for scooping and dumping, or take it off so it creates a fun waterfall effect every time your child scoops. See my example here.
- In the laundry room: Have your child help pull the wet laundry out of the washer or the dry laundry out of the dryer for hand strengthening. Pushing or carrying the laundry basket provides additional opportunities for strengthening.
- In the kitchen: Have your child help peel fruit (such as bananas or oranges), smash potatoes or bananas, knead dough for bread or pizza, flatten cookie dough with a rolling pin, or stir foods that are thick and provide resistance. This is all super for hand and arm strengthening!
5. Use items you have around your house. This is especially true for younger children, such as those who are Kindergarten-aged and younger. Some examples include pinching toothpicks and dropping them into an empty spice container, squeezing chip clips onto the edge of a box, playing with a squirt bottle, and pushing pipe cleaners into the holes of a colander. There is so much you can do to support your child’s fine motor development using stuff you have around your house!
Important Note: If your child is demonstrating delays in fine motor and/or self-help skills, then the tips in this post should be used as a supplement to your child’s therapy program, rather than as a replacement for the planning, intervention, and advice of an occupational therapy practitioner who knows your child personally.
For more ideas to help you support the fine motor development of the kid(s) in your life, check out the e-books below! These e-books have been written by a fellow occupational therapist and are part of her affiliate program (see full disclosure here).
OT Mom’s Fine Motor Bundle (Discounted price on Fine Motor Activities plus Scissor Skills Activities plus FREE Bonus Cutting Template)
Want access to all of OT Mom’s e-books? Check out her Mega Motor Bundle which includes all of her e-books at a discounted price!